Today, 31 March 2023, marks the 25th Anniversary of automation when Fair Isle South became the last of Scotland’s manned lighthouses to be automated.
Bill Gault is a former Lighthouse Keeper. For over 30 years he served with the Northern Lighthouse Board and was stationed at some of the most spectacular and remote locations in Scotland. It was Bill who turned off the lamp at Fair Isle South Lighthouse for the last time. It was a day he knew was coming but it wasn’t an easy one. For it not only signalled the end of his own long career but also the end of Scotland’s 200-year-old tradition of lighthouse keeping.
Bill wrote ‘A Song for Lighthouse Bill’ around 15 years ago for a music night at the Ligie Folk Club.
A Song for Lighthouse Bill
When out at sea a glint of light through snow or darkest hour.
You’ll know some keeper stood his watch on some island, cape, or tower.
For fully thirty years I served as a keeper of the lights,
Frae the Shetland isles, tae the Calf of Man I spent my working nights.
On Fidra in the Firth of Forth I worked my starting days,
Then at Buchan Ness and soon Kinnaird I learned the keepers ways,
On Barra Head up in the clouds, where Atlantic’s swells roll high.
And on Ailsa Craig then Skerryvore soon weeks then years flew by.
At Ardnamurchan’s rugged shores saw grampus, fulmars, whales.
At Copinsay saw dawn of day, bonnie sunsets over Orkney’s green isles,
At Killintringan on the Mull looked west to Fingal’s way,
Rhuval on Islay’s northern shore looks out to Colonsay.
I’ve struggled thro gales on many’s a day, been storm stayed more than once,
Aince had to stay tho I had nae say, for damn near twa full months.
But in the end a chopper came and flew us a safe hame.
Aye and if need be I’d hae tae say I’d dee it ower again.
Now things have changed, alas no more are needed men like me.
With computers then with GPS soon came redundancy.
It’s twenty years past since our last day we spent on bleak Fair Isle.
Aye and on that day it’s true to say nae keeper raised a smile.
In 1786 the service it began, with whale oil lamps tae light the coast,
Safe way for all sea men.
Soon lights were fuelled with paraffin
Horns sounded for fog, snow, and haze.
The service it saw lots of change right up to its last days.
Twas on the 31st March in 1998 our Service Royal Patron Anne came to officiate.
On looking round to my surprise, a crowd had come to see
The end of lighthouse keepers with the NLB.
We lowered our flag for the last time, it was the final blow,
Presented to the princess, we were feeling very low.
Soon we popped a cork then had a dram to the Keepers who’d gone before.
For, we now were the last of them
There won’t be any more.
Copyright Bill Gault